Journalists can’t resist “man-bites-dog” stories. Here’s an example of one they’ll find irresistible: Even as media companies shed revenue and staff in ever-growing numbers, a new company will spring to life Jan. 12 that will employ about 80 journalists with the un-modest aim of covering the world. And… it aims to make money.
Boston-based GlobalPost is a Web startup that will try to fill a void left by newspapers and network television, which collectively have pulled back sharply in deploying journalists abroad. If it’s successful, GlobalPost will be one of the most spectacular against-the-grain stories since news companies began their accelerating revenue slide almost two years ago.
“There’s literally a revolution going on, and we want to be in it,” Charles Sennott told me Thursday. “We want to be right there at the barricades.” Sennott is GlobalPost’s executive editor who, with CEO Philip Balboni, is trying to accomplish what conventional wisdom would say is improbable at best. At a time when the economy is tanking, advertising is fleeing newspages and most American media are going local, GlobalPost is betting that what happens in South America and Africa and more is worth an investment of Americans’ time and money.
In one way, GlobalPost is the perfect combination of new media and old. GlobalPost’s foreign correspondents – about 65 have been lined up in 45-plus countries – will receive just $1,000 per month, with the assumption that they’ll pay the rent and groceries by earning additional income elsewhere. This arrangement may become a defining aspect of the new-media world, but it’s one that’s been a part of the foreign correspondence world for decades.
The correspondents also will be paid with shares of the company, but Sennott has had to do a sales job to persuade his new hires that the stock could be valuable. “We mean it,” he said. “We will assign a dollar value and we’ll buy back if they want.”
GlobalPost hopes to draw income from three buckets – advertising on its Web site, syndication to news media clients and a premium Web service that will cost $199 per year. On the surface, all three look like uphill climbs, but Sennott promises that GlobalPost will be “nimble and creative” in adjusting its business plan as things go.
At a minimum, Sennott, a former Boston Globe veteran, has made a believer of some impressive names in lining up his foreign correspondents – people like Caryle Murphy, Michael Goldfarb, Matthew McAllester, Seth Kugel and Josh Hammer. Jack Farrell will be covering foreign policy from a Washington perspective.
These names reflect, in part, the continuing lure of the swashbuckling life of a foreign correspondent – “the grandest ride you can have in journalism,” Sennott said. I was constantly amazed when I ran the McClatchy Washington bureau at how consistently our foreign-based team accomplished the near-impossible, and I told Sennott these qualities might make them uniquely adept in their digital-world quest.
Sennott agreed, but said his journalists will need to become much more entrepreneurial in order to succeed. “We all need a better, vested sense of making a business work,” he said.
At a minimum, GlobalPost has a cost structure that mainstream media can’t touch. At $1,000 a month, Sennott will have a team that will cost less than $1 million annually. A Washington Post or New York Times or McClatchy gets only three or four moderately priced bureaus for the same sum. Of course, these bureau correspondents are full-timers; GlobalPost’s are stringers who will amount to part-timers. It’s on the revenue side where the big question exists. GlobalPost is talking with potentially paying customers who would subscribe to the service, but there’s nothing to announce yet, Sennott said.
Interestingly, GlobalPost started out as a nonprofit idea, more along the lines of Global Voices or the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, both wonderfully valuable additions to the world of foreign reporting. GlobalPost could end up in the same place. But profits are where Sennott and Balboni are aiming. If they make it, journalists will be dancing in the streets.